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by Fran LaWare, Teacher, TSBVI and David Wiley, Transition Specialist, TSBVI Deafblind Outreach

More attention is being paid recently to the importance of recreation and leisure skills as a part of special education cirriculum. This particular focus is made clear in the Individual Transition Plan which requires identification of leisure outcomes as well as employment, education and independent living.

Any discussion of recreation and leisure has to begin with the understanding that "leisure skills" implies personal choice making by participants. We all do many things that we would rather not be doing but we do not call them recreation, nor do we call the time spent doing them leisure. Therefore, a prerequisite to teaching leisure skills to young people is paying close attention to what they enjoy, helping them understand that leisure time is a time that they can make choices, and if they are unaccustomed to making choices, providing them with the skills and framework to do so.


Consequently, whether leisure skills are to be taught at home or at school, the first step is always doing a further survey of the child's interests, the family's interests, and the environments that the child/family move in. It's best to sit down and make a list of all the things that your child enjoys doing, remembering to get imput from him/her to the greatest extent possible. Some of these things may seem a little weird like tearing up paper or putting things in purses. Don't make judgements about the value of the activity at this point, just collect the data. To elicit this information from some children you might be able to simply ask for their ideas after explaining what you are doing. With children who are not as skilled in the area of communication you might need to spend time observing your child in a variety of settings to gain some insight to his/her preferences.

After you make a list of the child's interests, the next list to make is what your family and your child's closest friends enjoy doing together. Because many of our leisure activities are done with somebody, it's best to learn some of the things the other people in your child's world like to do.

The third list you will need to make is of the places your child and your family spend most of their time. Skills that you teach should be things that can be done in those environments.

Finally, now that you have your lists, use them and share them with relatives, baby sitters, teachers, friends or anyone who can help your child learn recreation and leisure skills.


The first level of leisure skills that your child needs to know are those skills that we might refer to as "immediate skills." These are the skills that your child should use during periods when they have to wait, when they are receiving a minimal amount of supervision, or when other plans fall through: what your mother may have called "things to do on a rainy day." These skills are what every child needs, not only for himself, but so that other family members can take care of their own everyday needs. In most cases, developing these immediate skills is not so much a matter of teaching but of observing and adapting. Remember, leisure skills are those things that your child chooses to do and might not be the things you would expect. We have known kids who take great pleasure in pumping up inner tubes, washing dishes, sorting through candy wrappers they have saved, looking through binoculars, grinding coffee beans and collecting bowling pins. The important common denominator for all of these activities is that the child selects and enjoys the activity. Our job, as adults, then becomes letting them choose and letting them participate in that chosen activity.

While some of the things your child may choose may seem "inappropriate", with some creativity and adaptation, you can turn these activities into meaningful leisure skills. (Editor's note: Tom Powell notes that there is not really that much difference in collecting candy wrappers and collecting stamps or rocks or baseball cards.)


An older student who still enjoys a push toy might easily be taught to push a carpet sweeper or a shuffle board stick instead. A dust mop proved to be a good substitute for a teenager who is blind and enjoyed exploring the space in a room by banging the ceiling with a stick. She had fun and kept the cobwebs at bay simultaneously. Someone who likes to push buttons might be taught to use a piano, push keys on a typewriter, push the slide changer on a slide projector, or learn to operate a tape recorder. A child who throws things could be taught to load the dryer, play horseshoes or shoot baskets. Kids who enjoy vibration might learn to use an electric toothbrush or operate a foot massager. Someone who loves to spin might enjoy playing on a merry-go-round or learning to dance.

Activities should be those things done by typical people your child's age. Even if the activities your child enjoys are not typical for a child their age, the materials they use can and should be replaced by materials that are chronologically age appropriate. For example:

Activities and Material that are Age Appropriate
Individual likes:For a child:Older adaptation:
to rock rocking horse rocking chair
music a musical stuffed animal tape player with head sets
to put objects into containers nesting eggs tools such as socket wrenches into form fitted tool set

If you are stuck for ideas, start asking friends and family about activities they do that include certain actions or that resemble the behavior your child seems to enjoy so much.

Some children seem to need certain sensory stimulation to calm themselves such as light gazing, being inside tight spaces, putting things on their fingers, hands, head, etc. These behaviors might give direction to you in helping that child to develop some leisure skills. For example, the child might start a collection of lighted objects such as the type found in some of the novelty stores. They could spend time exploring them in their room, taking them off a shelf or out of a box, and putting them back. They could also take a few of these items with them in a back pack or fanny pack if they are going to be in a situation where they are required to wait for periods of time. A child who likes to be in tight places may enjoy a snuggle bag or bean bag chair with pillows or accessing some designated place that could be created within his room for him to crawl inside. Just hanging out can be a legitimate leisure skill if your child chooses it.


Beside developing "immediate skills" your child needs to be taught a number of new skills that can be used throughout his/her life. Because leisure activities should be done by choice, it is our responsibility to expose children to a variety of options from which they may choose. Many times children surprise us with the activities they enjoy once they are given the opportunity. We should let children sample all activities participated in by friends and family and that can be done in their familiar environments. This exploring should include both group and individual activities. While exploring with your child it's a good idea to note which activities your child shows some interest in doing. Try these activities a few times before giving up on them. Sometimes doing something for the first time can be frightening and overwhelming.


When your child's exploration has identified some activities they seem to enjoy, your next step is to teach the skills they need to participate to the greatest extent possible. This involves gathering materials, learning skills and rules, possibly learning money exchange or budgeting, developing social skills and making choices. The teaching might also involve classmates or brothers and sisters who would like to participate in these activities as well. Your child may never be able to fully participate in all aspects of an activity but any part of the activity they enjoy is worth doing. For example, your child may not be able to play a game of basketball, but she might enjoy throwing out the ball to the other players, retreiving it if it goes out of bounds, making free throws, and interacting with peers in a group activity.

The time we all spend enjoying ourselves is a very important part of our lives, we can help ensure that our children have a richer life by honoring their choices, developing their interests, exploring new activities and teaching them the leisure skills that they need. You might also find that teaching a child to play is a treat for you as well.

Editor's Note: If you are a parent who feels lost when you try to teach your child a new game or activity, ask your school to help. See that the goals on his/her IEP include skills that will facilitate the development of a variety of recreation and leisure options for your child. School personnel need to solicit ideas and information from parents, friends, and family when they try to identify the areas of interest and the types of environments the child will likely access. The more independent an individual is in entertaining him/herself the better their chances are for functioning well within their immediate family and in adult living situations. Participating in recreational activities is often a natural way to make connections in the community. Having activities that you enjoy and opportunities to choose to do these activities regularly makes you a happier, healthier individual.

Originally printed in the April 1991, P.S. NEWS!!! pusblished by Texas Deafblind Outreach, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired.